We are the thing that keeps Israel going.
So, yet again, I have a new favorite experience on Muss. On Tuesday, February 12th, we went to Jerusalem to continue our learning on the second temple period. In Jerusalem, we first visited a completely proportional and accurate model of the second temple and Jerusalem during that period. We learned that Herod, a crazy lunatic paranoid ruler wishing to be remembered, built this incredible city for the Jews. We studied all about Herod’s life and crazy lunatic things he did, such as kill his smarter sons to get rid of a threat. Herod, although wanting to please the Jews, also wanted to equally please the Romans. Roman culture became a big part of Jerusalem, and after Herod’s death and constant undeveloped leadership, the Romans stepped in and started the procurator period, which is when different Roman governors ruled over the people. The issue- taxes began to rise and rise. A sect called the Essenes (the third one to be born) with goals to purify themselves because of the way Jerusalem was. We then went to the Shrine of the Book, where the dead sea scrolls are held. These were super interesting because it showed we have a past here! They were all written in ancient Hebrew, and that proves that the Jews have history in the land of Israel. Over 900 scrolls were found, each almost completely accurate to what we have today. The area where these were found is called Qumran, and most facts show that the Essenes most likely settled in this area after leaving Jerusalem. Could it have actually been the Essenes scrolls that were found?! I think that’s pretty cool. Also, facts show that the Essenes could have been the first Christians. We then went into the Jewish quarter and went to the house of a Saccuci, and saw how they assimilated with the Roman culture and not just acculturated. We then learned about Eleazar Ben-yair, a pharisee who wanted to revolt and created a group, the 4th sect, called the Siciris (named after the small knife they used called sica). We refer to them as the Zealots, who claimed nobody should rule the Jews who stops them from being Jews. Finally in Jerusalem, we went to the Davidson Center and saw a part of the Western wall and the southern wall of the Beit Hamikdash, and we sat and had class on the Holda stairs, where millions of Jews would climb to enter the Beit Hamikdash. One of the photos I chose was of our core class doing just that, as millions of Jews just like us would to witness Jerusalem and the BM for the first time. We learn that in 70 CE, on the 9th of AV, Titus destroys the BM, and steals the materials to build the Roman Colosseum. The Jews were devastated! Where were they going to pray! But, as we learned, SOMEHOW... Judaism lives on. What mattered in the end were the people, not the building. The truth of the matter is you cannot kill the Jews. Just before the destruction of the 2nd Beit Hamikdash, the Pharisees and Zealots get into a fight, and the Zealots flee to the only place they knew was not occupied, Masada. This is where we ended on the first day, preparing ourselves for the 4am wake up for Masada the next day, February 13th. On our way to Masada we had a stop in the desert, where we became one with it and just sat, staring out into the vast emptiness and thinking of nothing, listening to pure silence. That was one of the most amazing experiences I have had so far, sitting on top of a mountain overlooking the dead sea on one side and the desert on the other. I really found it so peaceful and just made me really appreciate even more the life and world I have before me.
We woke up on Wednesday, February 13th at around 4 am to climb Masada. Masada was the mountain the 997 Zealots came to when they fled Jerusalem, and was built by Herod as an escape from anyone or anything that threatened him. The Zealots became the only Jews living freely as Jews. Herod was a pretty paranoid guy. He built 3 walls guarding his palace and the fortress. He also used canals to bring the flash flood waters into cisterns which would fill up. In addition, he had 21 store rooms for food. When the Zealots arrived, they found a fully stocked food pantry, a plentiful water source, and a fortified mountain. The perfect place for them. The Zealots (let’s refer to them as the Jews) destroyed Herod’s palace at the end of the mountain (a part of it was actually artificially created by Herod himself) and used the materials to create their synagogue. There is also a mikvah built, a ritual bath before praying, and they found a geniza with scrolls inside, including the vision of the valley of the dry bones, which describes once again, the return to Zion. We studied that story last unit, and it was found on Masada and was most likely written at around 70 CE! Our hike to the top to discover all of this was super fun, and we got awesome sunrise pictures. At the sunrise one morning, the Jews looked out to see 15,000 Roman soldiers coming their way. They set up 8 camps surround Masada and are said to have waited 3 months, assuming the Jews needed to leave for food or water at some point. However, we know they had plentiful of both of those things which gave them 3 months to decide what to do. After debating and debating, it finally became eminent that the Jews would be killed in every possible situation. In the end, on Passover eve 4 years after their arrival to Masada, all the Jews on Masada took their own lives, dying as free Jews, dying avoiding slavery and rape and whatever the Romans may have brought onto them.
Something else that really resonated with me on this Tiyul was while we were sitting on Herodian Road, overlooking the Western wall, Jacob pointed out writing on one of the stones high up. The writing must have been written after the destruction of the temple, and most likely by a Jew visiting on the one day the Romans allowed it- the 9th of AV. What was written was something along the lines of, “Your Hearts will rejoice”, meaning that you will return to Zion. Just as the Jews did after the Babylonian Exile hundreds of years earlier, we will return to Jerusalem, the heart of our religion. Right now in this very moment, we are fulfilling that prophecy. Now that’s crazy, and I really began to think how grateful we are to have the state of Israel. Through this entire Tiyul I have been able to see the real importance of the state of Israel and all the history we have here, whether it be from Qumran to Jerusalem to Masada, and I truly now believe that we belong here.
Additionally, a question we should ask ourselves is why do we always talk about the Jews dying? Why can’t we talk about the ways we can live? We set up a formation with rocks (Picture 1) depicting the situation the Jews were in, with 8 camps surrounding them, full of weapons and angry men. But that means more. The rock formation also shows the current situation of Israel. Israel in the middle, with Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and the Nazis surrounding. (I think?!) Why is it not the same outcome though? At Masada the Jews were surrounded by 8 groups who disliked them just as the state of Israel today. So why are we still here? The answer is the people. The Jews that constantly come as an outside force, to break that rock barrier, that’s why the state of Israel is still around today. The next generation of Jews is not religious, they are not ultra orthodox, but the state of Israel is still just as important. We are the thing that keeps Israel going.